SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—Cabrillo College has been awarded a five-year, $5 Million U.S. Department of Education Title III grant, meant for STEM programs at federally-designated Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI).
To receive the HSI designation, at least a quarter of a college’s student body must be Hispanic. Today Hispanic students represent 46% of Cabrillo enrollment. This past spring, the school reached a historic milestone of 50% of its graduating class being Latinx.
The grant, titled Advancing in College & Career pathways to Expand STEM Opportunities (ACCESO), is designed to increase access to education and careers in STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics, fields for Latinx and/or low-income students.
The project has identified three goals to address institutional education gaps, and create opportunities that Cabrillo hopes to sustain beyond the life of the grant:
- Increasing access to STEM education through outreach
- Developing a biotechnology career pathway at Cabrillo
- Providing integrated academic and transfer support
The Title III grant program, also known as the Strengthening Institutions Program, is designed to help higher education institutions expand their capacity to serve at-risk students. Cabrillo has received two other Title III awards, which are available every five years.
Dr. Marina Ramon, STEM Project Director at Cabrillo, said that faculty and staff worked together for the past year in advance of the new grant cycle, looking at data and pinpointing specific gaps that needed to be addressed.
“This grant builds on what we’ve been trying to do for the last 10 years,” Ramon said. “The last two grants increased our low-income and Latino students into STEM, and we want to continue that.”
Ramon, who received her Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from UC Santa Cruz, said breaking down barriers to higher education and careers is “continuous work.”
“The entire educational institution was not meant for our current batch of students,” she said. “For so long there was a specific type of student going to college. That is not our student body now. We must be making sure we make it more accessible and be more supportive. It is so important to diversify our STEM fields.”
The grant will provide STEM outreach to K-12 students in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District, specifically high school juniors and seniors. It will fund the development of dual-enrollment math courses, something Ramon said is vital for student success.
“One of the gaps we noticed was math,” Ramon said. “We’ve had students coming in who need a lot more support, who haven’t taken a math course in years.”
The grant will also help Cabrillo develop courses for a new Associate of Science Degree in Biotechnology, connecting students with opportunities in biotech and STEM to inspire them to pursue careers. This includes updating lab spaces and making them more accessible to South County students.
In addition, the grant will help secure course alignment and agreements with universities, including UC Santa Cruz, San José State University and UC Davis.
Prospected outcomes of the grant, to be achieved by September 2026, include increasing Cabrillo’s STEM enrollment by at least 8% among Latinx and low-income students, increasing the persistence rate of students in STEM disciplines by 10% and increasing their transfer rate by 12%.